Frisco ISD fast-tracks teacher hiring with electronic onboarding

A few years ago, hiring a new teacher or professional employee took weeks for Frisco ISD’s HR Department.
It most often worked like this: A principal would send a hiring recommendation to HR. HR would check State Board for Educator Certification files for the appropriate certification, fill out a required NCLB form, and send files to get the process of fingerprinting the candidate underway. Once the fingerprinting process (which involves several steps) was completed, candidate certification was rechecked, and the candidate was officially hired by HR and scheduled to attend one of several three-hour orientation sessions.
HR would then begin setting up an employee file that would be shared by Finance and other district departments. When principals wanted to know where a candidate was in the hiring process, someone from HR would have the unenviable task of tracking the folder down. There was nothing efficient about the process, from the many paper forms candidates had to fill out and return to HR for data entry, printing, copying, and storage of all that data. At one point, HR tracked a candidate folder and observed that there were 350 steps involved to get one person hired.
Principals, candidates, and HR department staffers were united in their frustration with the process. Sound familiar?

Seeing the need

Frisco ISD is a fast-growth district, hiring between 400 to 600 new employees each year. Linda Bass was the district’s assistant superintendent of HR until her retirement in 2014. She said that the old employee orientation session fell short for HR because so many new employees were in each orientation session that there was little to no opportunity for one-on-one interaction. “It was not aligned with the philosophy of the district and how we want everyone to be treated,” Bass said.
Not only that, but through the year, HR would invariably field many questions on material that had been covered during orientation. Bass thought that an online process might do a better job in terms of teaching employees how to find and access information they might need in the future.
With the help of Melissa Fouche, the district’s technology director, and Bob Allen, Frisco ISD director of applications and processing, HR decided to make major advances on two fronts: moving to fully electronic employee records and making employee onboarding a mostly online activity.
Allen, a 30-year veteran of corporate IT, specialized in helping companies reengineer their processes. Bass was one of the first to seek him out to help her department, though she confesses that she was a bit of a heel-dragger at the thought of moving to fully electronic employee records (electronic content management, or ECM). “I talked to other districts that had started moving their electronic files and had been working on it for years and still weren’t done,” Bass said.
IT’s work on both pieces began in fall of 2012, with the intent to use the new onboarding system for the 2013‒14 hiring season. That gave IT six months to have it ready to go.
Allen formed a team that included principals and other stakeholders to reengineer the onboarding process. Their job was to determine where time was being wasted or effort duplicated to determine what the new process should look like.
The resulting goals were many:
  • To move most orientation activities online
  • Put forms online so new hires could fill them out, sign them, and submit them in a matter of minutes
  • Create an online spreadsheet for HR generated by the new hire
  • Automate communication with all stakeholders throughout the process
  • Ensure that all departments have access to the employee file at the same time

Getting started

The process of making the switch involved many steps—more than we can capture here—in part because the district wanted to customize its process. Rather than choosing off-the-shelf products, Frisco ISD chose a software platform that offered a document imaging system, workflow capability, and a robust ability to build forms. The IT department implemented that tool as the basis for ECM and the onboarding system.
IT started by automating the district’s employment contracts. Then they began looking at ways to automate HR activities and created a position inventory platform. In order to work seamlessly, the onboarding system had to be integrated with other district software systems (student and finance, to name a couple).
The system was designed with data integrity in mind for each department that needed access to the employee’s file: each new hire enters his or her own information and it is made available to each department that needs it. It’s not rekeyed by each department in the district, as it would have been in the past, saving district time and ensuring the accuracy of the information. “[The change] allows processors to focus on the value-added piece of their job rather than just shuffling paper around,” Allen said.

Up and running

ECM and the onboarding system were both used for the 2013‒14 hiring season. ECM now includes the records of more than 6,000 employees. Electronic onboarding is in full swing as well, with the district adding auxiliary employees to mix for the 2015‒16 school year.
Now, instead of sitting through a lengthy, impersonal orientation meeting and filling out a mountain of paperwork, new hires get an e-mail from HR to their district e-mail account, which is established almost immediately, allowing them to do their paperwork online.
Once they’ve completed that task, HR sends a link to the online employee orientation. New hires advance through a variety of topics, from a welcome message from Superintendent Jeremy Lyon to human resources policies and guidelines, professional development, benefits, and payroll. They are instructed to view each section in its entirety in order to advance to the next topic.
Most complete the online orientation process in two hours or less. They are then prompted to choose a time to come in for a short (30 minutes to an hour) face-to-face orientation meeting, the final step in Frisco ISD’s new orientation process. That’s when they bring in their critical documents (their Social Security card, driver’s license, official college transcripts, and service records, if applicable) get answers to their questions, and get contact information for the HR specialist assigned to their campus.

Meeting district, employee needs

“The first thing that we learned was that teachers thought the new onboarding process was great,” said Pam Linton, Frisco ISD’s current assistant superintendent of HR. “They had both the information they need and the personal connection.”
Linton notes that the onboarding system fits the preferences of typical new hires—often young teachers. “When we look at the majority of people that we’re hiring, they are so accustomed to doing everything with technology that this is a great tool for them,” Linton said. “It’s much less frustrating than having to sit through a long orientation.”
The other advantage is that new hires can complete the orientation whenever they want and schedule their face-to-face follow up at their convenience. “They liked that they had options in scheduling,” Linton said.
Principals are also enjoying the new onboarding process, particularly because they are consistently notified about where their applicants are in the hiring process. There’s no more calling to check on new hires and waiting for someone to track down their file.
Bass said that the ECM system is a huge advance for HR, since they can pull up any record needed at any point in time and have access to the specific information they need online. She may have balked at first, but became the system’s biggest cheerleader.
Allen believes that reengineering processes across the district is helping it avoid costs of more than $1 million per year. He used HR Department staffing as an example. “[The HR] staffing level is the same as it was two or three years ago, and we’ve added 25 percent more campuses,” Allen said. “We save money on paper, filing, toner, paper, and filing cabinets. We’ve expanded the capacity of HR.”
From the perspective of building relationships with employees, Bass thinks the electronic onboarding system is the more important piece. “We’re a big district, but we like to think of ourselves as being like a small town,” Bass said. “From an HR perspective, the system has a personal touch even though it’s largely electronic.”

Sharing the details

Allen is getting calls from districts near and far based on Frisco ISD’s success in developing and implementing the electronic systems. He says any district can do what Frisco has done, large or small. Less expensive versions of the system he used are available, and districts don’t have to take on as much as Frisco did initially. “You can hire people to help you do this, so you don’t even have to have IT staff,” Allen said.
“The other thing is I’m always encouraged to share in intimate detail anything we do,” Allen said. “Another district could get a huge jump start by just using the tools we’ve used already.”

Some high school counselors find a new partner to deal with HB 5

In 2013, the 83rd Texas Legislature passed House Bill 5 (HB 5), which substantially changed the state’s curriculum and graduation requirements, assessment programs, and accountability system. With these changes, more has been asked of school counselors. All counselors are supposed to advise students and their parents or guardians of the importance of post-secondary education—including coursework designed to prepare students to progress in their education—and the financial aid availability and requirements.

Some high schools in Texas have found a partner to help ensure their campuses are doing everything they can to help their students be successful in their post-secondary pursuits. Advise TX is a chapter of the College Advising Corps, based in Chapel Hill, NC. Advise TX seeks to increase the number of low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented Texas students entering and completing post-secondary education. Recent college graduates from five Texas universities (University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M, Texas Christian University, Trinity University, and Texas State University) are placed on high school campuses throughout Texas as “near-peer”college advisers.

Maria Miguel and Myliss Parker
Currently there are 120 Texas high school campuses with an Advise TX adviser. The advisers receive intensive training before serving in a high school, completing a six-week practical curriculum that focuses on college access, college admissions, financial aid, student services, diversity, community service, and professionalism. They work with high school counselors to create a college-going culture on the campus and help all students determine what the best post-secondary fit may for them.
High schools that have the Advise TX program are not allowed to reduce or supplant staff. The advisers do not replace current staff, but allow counselors to focus on academic advising. Advisers meet with the counselor before school starts to develop relationships and coordinate activities. “The adviser works in the individual planning component of the program and enhances the work done by the academic school counselor. She coordinates with the counseling department to optimize college-going related services,” says Myliss Parker, director of advanced academics at Los Fresnos CISD. Maria Miguel is the district’s program adviser.
Because the advisers are near-peers, they are able to connect with high school students. Many advisers are first-
Jane Dvorak and Rebecca McDonald
generation college graduates, and are in campuses similar to their own high schools. Jane Dvorak, senior principal at South Garland High School, Garland ISD, says her program adviser, Rebecca McDonald, has become an integral part of her campus. “(She) has the time and patience to give to students who are struggling with the college process. Most of our students are the first to go to college in their families, so there is little support at home. She helps parents and students through the process. Having her here allows the counselors to work with students on other issues,” Dvorak said.
The program is currently funded through a mixture of state funding and private grants. For the program to continue at its current level or expand to new schools, the Texas Legislature must allocate funds in this session. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has requested $8 million to replace discontinued federal funding to continue the program for the biennium.

Texas teachers slightly more engaged than national average

A recent Gallup survey on teacher engagement finds that just 30 percent of U.S. teachers are “actively engaged” in their jobs. Fifty-seven percent of teachers report that they are “not engaged,” and 13 percent are “actively disengaged” in teaching.
The picture is a bit brighter in Texas, which ranked second among populous states in engaged teachers. Thirty-four percent of teachers here are “actively engaged,” which Gallup defines as enthusiastic, committed, and on the lookout for new and better ways to do their jobs. Fifty-three percent of Texas teachers fall into the “not engaged” category, which Gallup defines as being satisfied with work but not emotionally connected and unlikely to devote discretionary effort. The 13 percent of Texas teachers who are “actively disengaged” take their dissatisfaction further. They “act out their unhappiness in ways that undermine what their coworkers accomplish.”
Gallup notes that U.S. teacher engagement statistics have been relatively stable since 2012 and that teachers exhibit a level of engagement similar to comparable estimates for the total U.S. workforce.

Benefits of engagement

Engaged teachers report fewer unhealthy days each year (10.1) than their “not engaged” peers (11.3) and significantly fewer than their “actively disengaged” peers (20.4). A similar pattern emerges when you look at missed work days, with “not engaged” teachers missing 3.5 days per school year versus more than six days for “actively disengaged” teachers. Teacher absences pose a dual challenge for districts: they must find and pay substitute teachers and, depending on the availability of qualified subs, may feel that classroom instruction and student learning suffer when regular teachers are out.
Gallup research notes the following outcomes for employers with engaged employees across companies and industries:
  • A sense of well-being
  • Less absenteeism and turnover
  • Fewer workers’ compensation claims
  • Increased productivity
  • Engaged customers
  • Safe workplaces
  • Profit

Boosting engagement

The survey noted that school leadership matters when you talk about teacher engagement. Districts that employ principals with a natural talent for their jobs are more likely to have teachers that are engaged in their jobs. Also, engaged teachers are more likely to have engaged students who excel in school.

Hiring best practices

Principals can be key to recruiting and attracting effective teachers

Human resource professionals across the state are at their busiest this time of year because of the need to recruit and hire employees. Many districts rely on traditional recruiting activities, such as participating in university and local job fairs, to find the best talent. However, these efforts sometimes don’t meet the need for teachers in shortage areas and hard-to-fill positions. In today’s competitive market, it’s important to look at alternative ways to identify and attract the right people to your district.
Most HR leaders recognize the value of principals in the recruiting process and ensure that they are involved in job fairs as much as possible. That way, top candidates can be quickly referred to principals for interviews and early selection. Once the best candidates are identified, principals can develop an ongoing relationship with them to keep them engaged and enthusiastic about joining the campus team.
There are other steps that principals can take to become the key recruiter for their campus and help identify candidates that haven’t even applied to the district.
Zachary Hobbs, HR Services consultant and former principal, identifies several strategies that he used to find and attract talented staff to his campus. Hobbs recommends that principals begin to think of themselves as headhunters and look for the “hot shot” candidates so they can actively recruit them. “Take advantage of every networking opportunity. You never know who might be a great candidate for your next job opening,” Hobbs said.
A couple of characteristics distinguish headhunters from recruiters. First, they locate suitable candidates with a certain skill set, which is often harder to find or requires a certain background. Second, headhunters typically take a proactive and aggressive approach to finding suitable candidates by reaching out to individuals they feel are specifically qualified. This may include approaching suitable candidates who are employed elsewhere.
Hobbs suggests maintaining relationships with former students who become educators and enticing them with opportunities to move back home. “Building a positive relationship with students who are interested in the education field and maintaining contact with them after graduation is a good strategy,” Hobbs said. “The students currently walking your halls may be the next generation of great teachers.”
Current teachers are also a great resource to identify and connect with high-quality candidates. Principals can encourage their staff to help recruit friends and relatives from other districts and their alma mater.
Referral incentive programs may help, but the personal connections between a principal and their staff may be even more effective. New hires want to connect with their coworkers and know more about their supervisor. Knowing someone on staff who understands the campus culture and can help the candidate assimilate can provide the key to successful onboarding. “Look for and create opportunities for new staff to interact socially with their colleagues,” Hobbs said. “Bowling with frozen turkeys in the hall after school prior to Thanksgiving break is just one of the ways we helped staff connect.”
Networking is also a powerful tool, says Hobbs. In small districts where there isn’t a dedicated HR professional, the principals should get to know their neighbors. He recommends developing a two-way relationship with principals and staff so you can give and receive top talent referrals. “If I found a good candidate that I was unable to hire, I tried to connect him or her with a colleague who had an opening,” says Hobbs. “Next time, you may be on the receiving end of the deal.”
In large districts, HR recruiters work to establish relationships with university staff. It is a good idea for principals to do the same, especially in small districts. Building networks with local universities, especially with career placement staff and professors, can help you to identify top talent and encourage the referral of graduates to your district.

Survey: Hiring, training, and ACA practices for substitute teachers

It’s a challenge many school districts across Texas face: substitute teacher shortages. Our newest survey takes a close look at substitute hiring practices, training, pay incentives, and long-term assignments. In addition, we gathered preliminary data on how districts are handling Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirements for their substitute teachers.
When it comes to hiring substitute teachers, nearly 80 percent of districts do not have a minimum education qualification beyond a high school diploma, according to the survey. Those with a minimum education prerequisite above high school require the completion of college coursework: 60 or more hours in 43 percent of districts. The survey also found that more than 60 percent of districts do not conduct personal interviews with substitute applicants.
Training for substitute teachers is a requirement in most districts (76 percent). Of those districts:

  • 61 percent conduct group training at the district,
  • 9 percent percent conduct online training, and
  • 6 percent provide training from a third party.
In districts that have some form of training, about half (54 percent) require training once upon initial hiring, while 41 percent require training on an annual basis. Just 15 percent of respondents say they compensate subs for attending training.
Pay incentives can be an important factor in attracting substitute teacher applicants for hard-to-fill assignments. Very few districts (4 percent) provide substitutes with additional pay for working on specific days. In districts that do pay more for specific days, the most common practice is to offer additional pay to substitutes who will work on Mondays and Fridays. Many districts (90 percent) also do not pay more for subs who work in certain assignments.
Schools tend to pay higher rates for long-term substitute assignments. Of the 91 percent of districts that do pay higher rates, nearly half (45 percent) consider a substitute who works more than 10 consecutive days in an assignment long term. The latest 2014–15 benchmark pay data for short- and long-term teacher substitutes can be found in DataCentral.
With new ACA rules in effect for substitute teachers, we included questions about health insurance in our survey for the first time. According to the requirements of ACA, substitutes that meet the definition of full-time employees include a “permanent substitute” or similar employee who has a regular, albeit temporary, assignment (e.g., long-term substitute). In addition, a substitute who averages 30 or more hours per week for an extended period of time is subject to ACA rules for full-time employees.
In Texas schools, less than 10 percent of districts hire regular, full-time employees as “permanent substitute” teachers, according to the survey. Of this group, less than half of these floaters (45 percent) are certified teachers.
Most districts (80 percent) do not limit the number of days all, or some, teacher substitutes can work in a calendar month. In districts where substitutes may qualify under ACA (days or hours are not limited), 40 percent of responding districts said they will pay any penalties assessed; and 31 percent don’t have (or are working on) a plan.    

Our August 2014 HR Exchange article “ACA roadmap—plan a route that ensures compliance” provides guidance on ACA requirements for teacher substitutes.
TASB HR Services polled 942 public school member districts in January 2015. For the summary report findings, 314 districts (33 percent) across all TEA-defined enrollment groupings participated in the survey. HR Services member districts can still take part in the survey by visiting HR Surveys in DataCentral. Results are available for download immediately upon completion of the survey.

HR Extras

Hiring likely to be on the rise in 2015

CareerBuilder recently published its 2015 U.S. Job Forecast and the results bode well for job seekers. With about 36 percent of employers expecting to add full-time, permanent employees in 2015, the report shows the best jobs outlook since 2006.
Hiring in the areas of information technology, financial services, manufacturing, and health care are expected to exceed the national average. The top five areas for hiring in 2015 focus on revenue growth, innovation, and customer loyalty.
  1. Sales (36%)
  2. Customer Service (33%)
  3. Information Technology (26%)
  4. Production (26%)
  5. Administrative (22%)
Wage growth has been stagnant for the past few years but that’s likely to change this year. Eighty-two percent of employers plan to increase compensation for existing employees (up from 73 percent last year) and 64 percent plan to offer higher starting salaries for new employees (up from 49 percent last year). Information Technology professionals are leading the pack when it comes to employee pay increases.
Hiring of school employees could get more competitive this year. US News and World Report recently released a list of the 100 best jobs of 2015 evaluating jobs based on a variety of factors, including pay and the likelihood of being hired. Jobs common in schools, including registered nurse, information technology worker, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and speech language pathologist were close to the top of the list. Elementary school teacher came in 39th, with high school and middle school teacher not far behind at 43rd and 45th, respectively. Human resource specialist came in at number 50. School counselor was 76th.

Sunset Advisory Commission recommends doing away with SBEC

The state’s Sunset Advisory Commission has recommended doing away with the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). The commission says the board’s duties can be overseen by the Texas Education Commissioner.
The commission made the same recommendation in 2012, noting that having two governor-appointed entities oversee work performed by TEA causes confusion and a lack of clear accountability for the oversight of educator certification and professional conduct issues, but the amendment containing that recommendation never came up on the floor of the Texas Senate. SBEC has not had its own staff and budget since 2005.
Last year, Waco ISD Superintendent Bonny Cain, who also serves as SBEC’s chair, offered a defense of the board in a letter to the commission. The letter stated that teaching should be treated like all other professions that have their own licensing boards, ability to set entry standards for the profession, and discipline members.
The Sunset Advisory Commission has reported its findings to Texas legislators, who have the final say in whether or not to eliminate the board through legislative action.

EEOC hears testimony on workplace harassment

If you think workplace harassment is a thing of the past, think again.
In January, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) noted that 30 percent of the changes filed with the agency involve workplace harassment based on sex, race, disability, age, and more. At that hearing, Carla Miaskoff, the EEOC’s acting associate legal counsel, said that recent harassment lawsuits demonstrate the need for progress now, 50 years after Congress created the EEOC to enforce workplace anti-discrimination laws. The agency plans to form a task force to identify strategies to prevent and correct workplace harassment.
So how can employers prevent harassment? The experts that testified had some ideas:
  • Conduct training that is repeated, includes leaders, and offers specific examples of unacceptable behaviors.
  • Offer short refresher training sessions as part of other large-group meetings using examples of workplace harassment in the news.
  • Handpick the people who will hear employee harassment complaints. Don’t require employees to report to their supervisors as a matter of policy.
Employers can also take action to help reluctant employees report harassment. They can offer hotlines or conduct yearly anonymous surveys asking workers if they’ve seen or experienced harassment.
—“Workplace Harassment Still Pervasive, EEOC Hears,” SHRM Website, Jan. 14, 2015.

Q&A: Are teacher planning periods untouchable?

Q: Can a teacher volunteer to teach an extra class during a planning period?
A: It depends. A teacher is prohibited from assuming teaching duties during the planning period required by Texas Education Code §21.404 (450 minutes in a two-week period) even if he or she volunteers to do so with pay. The only exception is when a district provides teachers with more than 450 minutes in a two-week period. In that situation, teachers are allowed to give up this surplus time to teach a class.
Districts sometimes ask a teacher to take on an extra class or period due to increased enrollment or when a special class is offered and it’s not feasible to hire a teacher to cover that single class period.
The issue on teachers volunteering to teach during their conference period was addressed in a recent commissioner decision (Bledsoe v. Huntington Indep. Sch. Distr., Tex. Comm’r of Educ. Decision No. 033-R10-1103 (Sept. 18, 2014)). The commissioner held that districts are prohibited from assigning teaching duties during a teacher’s planning period, even if the teacher agrees to the duties.
In addition, the commissioner reasoned that a district cannot contract for teaching duties for monetary compensation outside of a Chapter 21 contract. If a district removes the duties, compensation cannot be reduced below the amount received in the previous year unless the district notifies the teacher before the penalty-free resignation date. This applies even if the teacher knowingly agreed to teach the class for only one semester or school year.
Additional information is available in the TASB School Law eSource post Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Teacher Planning Periods.